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The Trafficking of Nepal’s Girls into India: A Narrative Study

This study explores the root causes and consequences of a trafficked girl, now aged around 40, her experiences, and feelings along with the challenges she faced in between trafficked and being rescued as well as her social adjustment in society in the context of Nepal. This study presents findings of a small-scale study about causes and consequences of the trafficking of girls in Nepal. Two major theories – namely feminism and integrated theories – are of focus. By the process of developing and shaping the study in the context of Nepalese society, root causes and consequences of trafficking are linked to social discrimination in equality, lack of awareness, poverty, and gender violence.


In human trafficking, innocent and illiterate girls from rural areas are sold inside the country or overseas either for prostitution or for forced labor. The illegal selling and buying of human beings is one of the major social crimes in Nepal that is being closely monitored even by international agencies. However, only little improvement has been seen as trafficking spreads rapidly in the remote areas of Nepal where people are ignorant, uneducated and poor. Illiterate girls suffering from poverty are brought to cities by brokers on the pretext of good jobs. They are sold, especially in various cities of India, and forced to become a prostitute in a brothel.

Trafficking in person can be defined as the “recruitment transfer potation, harboring or receipt of person, by mean of threat or use of force of deception, of the abuse of power or of position of vulnerability or of giving of payment or benefits to achieve the consent of person for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation should include at a minimum the exploitation of the prostitutions of other or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs” [Palermo protocol United Nation 2000].

The common push factor that has been identified as the main driving force behind human trafficking is poverty. However caste-based discrimination, lack of resources and lack of human and social capital in security, gender discrimination, social explosion, unemployment, breaking down the community support system, etc., are some factors leading to human trafficking. For the purpose of trafficking for exploitation, this includes exploiting for prostitution of other sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery or similar practices or removal of organs.

In Nepal, the trafficking of girls is increasing among middle-class women who are being trafficked to Gulf countries under the veil of attractive jobs and handsome salaries. The magnitude of trafficking has increased over the years, but neither the extent not the real expansion has been verified.

The illegal structure of trafficking, community-vested interests, and lack of actual information data and networking among stakeholders are the major constraints to preventive anti-trafficking measures. Disadvantaged groups in all spheres of Nepali society for a long time, political instability and internal conflict contribute to increasing vulnerability to trafficking. Many studies in the past revealed that the conflict-induced inflows of women and girls to urban areas increase the commercial sexual exploitation and thus internal trafficking too.    

Poverty, lack of opportunity and the emerging trend of foreign migration affect the trafficking of girls in Nepal.

Purpose of the Study

The main purpose of this study was to explore causes, consequences as well as societal challenges of the trafficking of girls in Nepalese society.

Research Questions

 This study tried to find out the answers of the following research questions:

  • How do girls feel about their condition of being trafficked?
  • Do they face challenges in between trafficking and societal adjustment after trafficking?

Theoretical Framework

A research work needs theories for its authenticity, foundation, and further development. This work cannot be different from others works related to this study. In the process of configuring and developing this paper, I consulted different theories related to my topic. A research work cannot move ahead without theoretical part. Therefore, I selected mainly three theories such as feminist theory, integrated theory and family literacy theory, which supported my study.

Feminist theory

Feminist theory is a broad, trans-disciplinary perspective that strives to understand roles, experiences, and values of individuals on the basis of gender (Miriam, 2005). Feminism is most commonly applied to intimate partner violence, framing an abusive relationship between intimate partners as a gender-based crime supporting the institutionalized oppression of women globally (Nichols, 2013: Sokoloff & DuPont, 2005). With regard to sexual exploitation, feminists frame questions of whether prostitution or any exchange of sex for something of financial value is or can be voluntary (Wilson &Butlar, 2014). Feminist theory and its subsequent contrasting divisions also significantly impact service delivery, as direct service providers disagree in the interpretation of the statistical overrepresentation of women and girls seen in practice (Oakley et al., 2013; Wasco, 2003) and research (Clawson, Dutch, Solomon, & Grace, 2009; Farley, Cotton, Lynne, Zumbeck, & Spiwak, 2008; Sullivan, 2003).

With regard to sexual exploitation or sex work, scholars and advocates are generally divided into two opposing theoretical camps. One group, usually referred to as neo-abolitionists, condemns all forms of voluntary and involuntary prostitution as a form of oppression against women. Neo-abolitionists, including radical and Marxist feminists, postulate that prostitution is never entirely consensual and cannot be regarded as such      (Tiefenbrun, 2002). The other group, including many sex positivists, argues that a woman has a right to choose prostitution and other forms of sex work as a form of employment or even as a care.

In recent times economic demand saw many young migrants becoming victims of girls trafficking. Trafficking, even if it is not rooted in economic demand of the victims, has additional factors like poor awareness in the recruitment process.

I found that the trafficking of girls has several causes, like unemployment, poverty, illiteracy, sociopolitical factors, economic factors, economic demand, and foreign migration.

Integrated theory

The formal structure for the integrated theory to explain the trafficking of girls for involuntary prostitution takes the form of multiple causality. The trafficking of girls for the purpose of involuntary prostitution is an outcome of a combination of multiple factors (Lanier & Henry, 2010 p383). The concepts integrated for the construction of this framework are done at an individual level of theory integration. There exists a mutual relationship between selected variables so that when combined one cannot function without the other. Decision-making process has not occurred without rational decision-making, which comprises rational choice, the demand as well as victim vulnerability. Power and inequality, free and lifestyle exposure are three concepts creating an opportunity for recruitment to occur. The interconnectedness of the world, victim precipitation as well as severity and certainty of punishment enable human traffickers to move the victims. Exploitation of victims is made easier by the ambivalent attitudes expressed by society toward the victims as well as the costs and benefits generated from prostitution and transfer of victims. If victims exit the human trafficking process alive, the loss and pain endured from the experience might likely influence them to either return as recruiters or work independently as prostitutes. To explain the factors contributing to human trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation, the variables below have been selected from the theories described above. Each set of variables correlate with each stage of human trafficking from recruitment to loss and pain.    

Family Literacy Theory

Denny Taylor’s (1983) family literacy theory also supports my study. Godwin, et al, (2013) contended that family literacy refers to a series of ideas that researchers share, including the design, implementation, and evaluation of programs to help facilitate literacy development of family members; the relationship between family literacy and student achievement; and the ways in which literacy is naturally used in the home.

Thus I linked these three theories to complete the objectives of my study.


This study is based on narrative research design. In a narrative research design, “researchers describe the lives of individuals, collect and tell stories about these individual lives and write narratives about their experiences” (Connelly & Clandinin, 1990, as cited in Creswell, 2012). For the study, I took the interview on the basis of the objectives and research questions as stated in the preliminary section of this study. Frankly speaking, I interviewed a girl who was trafficked at the age of 14. Due to ethical considerations, the participant’s name is kept secret (pseudonym ‘Fulkumari’). 

Results and Discussion

From the information collected from the participant named Fulkumari, I have drawn three themes. So this section presents the results of the study and discusses its meanings in terms of the themes drawn.

Societal Discrimination

The victims of trafficked girls face problems of societal discrimination as they find them difficult to adjust in society. Fulkumari shared the similar experience after her trafficking. She was sold to India and she stayed in a brothel for five months. Then, luckily, she was rescued by an organization named OREC. In this regard, to quote the participant’s view:

Nepalese women are facing different kinds of discrimination in the society due to gender-based violence, humiliation in the society, all the above examples may be the root cause lead to the women. Which they want to do something in society but they do not get good opportunity as well as their family also does not support them.

From her expression, I can infer that trafficked girls are facing the problems of social discrimination. They can’t get job opportunities in the society as they are hated by people. They face basically gender-based violence. This view is in line with the feminist theory as the females are discriminated by males and they need to get free themselves from such type of social discrimination. Trafficked girls lose their identity in the society as people have negative attitude toward them. Many people hate them though they do not say so directly and openly. Fulkumari experienced such loss in her social identity after she came back to Nepal from India after her rescue. 

Poverty and Illiteracy as the Main Causes of Trafficking

Among various causes of trafficking, poor economic condition of the parents and the lack of literacy are the main causes of girls trafficking in the context of our country Nepal. This can be clear from the words of Fulkumari:

Due to poor family background and less economic condition the women are forced involve in such kind of activities, they are involved for some time in such kind violence and activities by owner. They will be forced to do any kind of work whether that is household work or any kind of sexual abuse.

As the above expression shows, due to poverty, girls get trafficked. As Lewis’ (1966) theory “the culture of poverty” asserts, poor people live under poverty and, as a result, they want to do any work for their livelihood. Fulkumari became ready to go to India to earn money as she did not know that she would be sold there.

Again to quote Fulkumari:

Being uneducated or illiterate is another major cause of women trafficking. In search of job they roam around in different types of factory or carpet factory; here again lack of education, again women has to take risk in the opportunity that they have got where they have to be available for any kind of job at any time.

Lack of education of the parents or illiteracy also causes trafficking of girls as the expression of Fulkumari above suggests. We see the many people in the rural areas are not educated. In fact, poverty and illiteracy are interrelated. Due to poverty, there can be no education for the children in the family. Taylor’s (1983) theory of family literacy is in line with this view.

Need of Support for Survival

Trafficked girls need support from the government, NGOs/INGOs and other such social organizations for their survival as they face difficulties to adjust in the society. Fulkumari gave similar suggestions about what has to be done to the trafficked girls after their rescue. In her own words:

Society should be open-hearted to understand their feeling due to lack of respect, the report of media organizations, etc. Rescued women cannot live dependently in the society. A government should treat equally their entire citizens – trafficked persons and rescued women should provide proper shelter/home for them and give the skillful training to live their life respectfully in the society. Other NGO /INGOS also can play the vital role in established safe home to make good skillful life after rescue; they can provide education and life skill training, opportunity to start their new life confidently in society. Similarly, the government also should feel that they are citizens.

This expression clarifies that trafficked girls and women need any kind of support for their livelihood. Government can provide them life skills training and NGOs and INGOs can support them. They are also the citizens of the country. So they need to be helped and treated as human beings by others. Integrated theory can be quite applicable in this context as we should have positive support socially, economically, morally, ethically, etc., from our own sides as human beings.


As can be seen from the information above, there is a need for more academic study on human trafficking. It has been demonstrated that certain behaviors or cultural attitudes seem to contribute to victim vulnerability for trafficking; more study needs to be done in relation to society as to how these practices affect various communities throughout the country. More organizations need to collaborate and share information so that more can be done in terms of trafficking prevention.

So involving the theories, I have concluded that major causes of the trafficking of girls are illiteracy, poverty, foreign migration, discrimination against women, poor economic conditions, social tradition, and inequality; migration has increased all of the above in the trafficking of Nepalese girls.

So there have not been many studies done on community behaviors, attitudes and cultural practices in the Nepalese context. If practices and belief systems can be identified and understood in a contextual way it will benefit researchers and politicians in creating more efficient policies. 


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Bishnu Sapkota
Bishnu Sapkota
Bishnu Sapkota is a M.phil. leading to Ph.D program at the Graduate School of Education, Faculty of Education, Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, Nepal.

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